WALKER – She tried to prepare herself as much in advance as possible with one goal in mind.
Hannah Jones wasn’t successful.
After first informing the parents of Walker High’s girls basketball team that she wasn’t returning to her alma mater to serve on the Lady Cats' coaching staff, Jones was set to face the players themselves and deliver the news.
“I thought I had this, that I’d hold it together,” Jones said.
Turns out Jones didn’t stand a chance.
Jones’ announcement near the end the school year that she was leaving Walker High, where she coached the girls basketball team to the Class 5A state semifinals and track team for three years, turned into a task she was unable to perform without a box of Kleenex nearby.
Once Jones explained she was making a family-related move to the Lake Charles area with her husband Timothy, a member of the U.S Coast Guard, her heart then got in the way of her intentions, and the tears began flowing.
“I couldn’t look at all of them,” she said. “I was trying to focus on what I was saying and not let tears stream down. They all jumped up and hugged me.”
It was quite different from the times they shared after Walker captured the District 4-5A championship and later advanced to the state tournament after an overtime victory at home against Natchitoches Central.
This was more about a finality between athletes and their beloved coach parting ways and trying to squeeze out every second of their time together.
“It’s sad because our team’s like a family and I have my own family outside of basketball here,” said Jones, who taught at Walker’s Freshman High the past four years. “It’s a new adventure and that’s how we’re looking at it. This is opening the door for us to do new things as a married couple. It’s exciting.”
It came after a tumultuous six-month span.
Jones, a former Walker High standout player who played collegiately at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, found herself in a much different role this season than she could have ever imagined.
When head coach Korey Arnold was suspended by the LHSAA on Nov. 16 for recruiting violations, the 27-year-old Jones was elevated to head coach – a position she had never previously never held at the varsity level before.
“It was a form of adversity,” Jones said. “It happened in November, right where you’re almost in that true season grind. I’m thankful and honored that Walker let me be the one to be the head coach. We had an amazing support system and an amazing group of coaches that whenever something needed to be done, we worked together.
“I think it showed because we had a great season,” Jones said. “To be able to coach those girls made me better. A lot of times you think the coach makes them better, but they made me better.”
Walker was off to a 4-0 start at the time of the LHSAA’s announcement, and the Lady Cats went on to win their first 11 games of the season until a 54-38 loss to Denham Springs in the final of the parish championship.
Led by eventual Class 5A state MVP and Miss Basketball Tiara Young, an LSU signee, Walker later gained the services of Tarondia and Trinity Harold in December and the Lady Cats began to truly hit their stride.
Walker finished the regular season on a 10-game win streak, capped by a come-from-behind 58-50 victory at Denham Springs, to capture the District 4-5A title.
The Lady Cats, the second-seeded team in the Class 5A state playoffs, extended their win streak to 13 games with three consecutive home playoff wins over Destrehan, Sulphur and Natchitoches Central, the latter turning into another example of the team’s resolve after Young spent much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble.
Walker finished the season with a 32-5 record and Jones was selected the District 4-5A Coach of the Year.
“I remember being a nervous wreck for my first college game,” Jones said. “I’m good at not showing emotion. I was like that for the Sulphur game. I was very nervous because in the playoffs you never know -- wanted to prepare them and make sure they were mentally ready for every little thing.”
Walker was in position to reach the Class 5A state championship game, facing Denham Springs for a third time this season, when the Lady Cats lost the services of Young for the remainder of the game with 6:22 to play and fell 48-33.
Jones, along with assistant Vance Law, guided Walker to a runner-up finish in the District 4-5A track meet and a fifth place showing in the Region II-5A meet.
The Lady Cats qualified five athletes for the Class 5A meet with Kaitlyn Hayes leading the way in three events – the long jump along with the 4x100 and 4x200 relays.
“The transition of moving is hard because you’re so used to things,” Jones said. “I’ve grown up here and know a lot of people in the community. They’ve watched me grow up and play. Those things are hard when you look at the investment I put in teaching at the school and coaching basketball and track.”
While moving away from family and life-long friends will prove difficult in the short term Jones, who celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary in May, would like to maintain her career as an educator and secure a coaching position where she proved adept at serving as a calming force for a unit during turbulent times.
“I love teaching and coaching kids,” she said. “It can be a demanding job in certain aspects, but the reward is greater. You never know what hand you’ll be dealt. You take what you get and try and mold them into great young ladies.
“I did it on the fly for one year,” she said. “That’s something I want to carry. It’s more than the Xs and Os. It’s teaching, it’s guiding. Now I’ll have some more confidence under my belt. I think that experience is going to help in the long run.”